Applying for a driver license or photo ID

A driver license serves dual purposes - it allows you to drive a motor vehicle legally and functions as your primary form of photo identification.

So how do you get one?

Driver Licenses are a state responsibility in the US. They are issued by each state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)or equivalent agency - the name may differ state-to-state. Licensing procedures are more or less the same, with minor but important location-specific differences. You can only be issued a license by the state you live in, though you can drive anywhere in the America, once licensed.

Getting a license is, generally speaking, a 2 step process, no matter which state

Step 1: Get a learner's permit
Step 2: Get your driver license

Get a learner's permit

  1. Go to your state's DMV website and understand the licensing procedures thoroughly.

  2. Ensure you have applied for, and received your social security number prior to applying (see this website's section on social security numbers, for more details).

  3. Ensure you have collected all necessary supporting documents in original

  4. Go to your local DMV office, and apply for a learner's permit. This will require you to clear a vision test, a written test and a sign test.
    1. The vision test will check your eyesight. Wearing glasses or contact lenses is allowed. Some locations have empanelled doctors or clinics for conducting the test, while others will conduct the test at the DMV office
    2. The written test checks your knowledge of road rules and practices. You will need to correctly answer a minimum number (usually 75% to 80%) of the multiple-choice questions to qualify. The test could be on a touch-screen or using pen and paper.
    3. The sign test is usually the second part of the written test itself. It will check your knowledge of road signs.

    Once you get your learner's permit, that actually fulfills your requirement of having a photo ID. The learner's permit looks very like a driver license, and becomes your primary form of government-issued photo identification. You can drive on a learner's permit, but under restrictions (e.g. a licensed driver must ride with you, and you are usually not allowed to drive out-of-state)

    Photo ID notwithstanding, you need to move on and get a full-fledged driver license, if you intend to drive alone.

Get your driver license
  1. As with the learner's permit, go to your state's DMV website and understand the licensing procedures thoroughly. Your state may have specific prerequisites, such as mandatory driving lessons or a minimum amount of liability insurance.

  2. Take driving lessons, if that's a requirement in your state. Even if its not a requirement, it might be a good idea to get lessons.

  3. Most states will not mandate insurance, just to get a license. If they do, and if you own a car, don't worry - you already have insurance (you can't acquire a car without minimum liability insurance). If you don't own a car, and yet need insurance for a license, buy a 'non-owned' insurance policy from any insurance company.

  4. Go to the DMV office with your learner's permit and required supporting documents (in original). Take the driving test. And get your license!

If you fail the driving test, you get your learner's permit back and can re-schedule a test after a certain minimum period (e.g. 30 days).

If you don't want a driver license and only need a non-driver photo ID card, there are no tests involved - whether vision, or written or driving. You just need to check your state's DMV website for the proper documents required. Take those documents in original to the DMV office, and they will issue you a photo ID card. Simple !

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